May 2, 2014
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Brilliantly combining the written word with technology, Tommy Pico's poetry collection Absent Mindr is both chapbook and app. The poems, available both in type and spoken by the author, are matched to art, making an unforgettable poetry experience.
HTMLGIANT wrote of the book:
"The poetry is cool. That’s first. I really appreciate that the literature isn’t secondary to techcrunches, and the press release for this app is all about the poetry. Certainly it’s good stuff (read “Inheritance” at Best American Poetry), and Tommy “Teebs” Pico’s voice is pitch perfect on the audio (which can be listened to when you’re not connected, like on the subway, because all the content is a download), but what I’m really impressed by and excited about is the presentation, which is slick and gorgeous. It’s antimatter transportation to cars. The app considers the poetry, the art matches the tone."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Sex, drugs & iPhone. That’s how I jazz-hands Absent Mindr when I'm asked what the ch-app (chapbook app, heh) is "about." There's the standard family, identity, coming-of-age stuff, but I like a soundbite. Not necessarily as annotation, but as an opportunity: I think how you say something can be just as important as what you’re saying.
I've spent as much time learning how to read poems aloud as I have learning to write them--studying people on YouTube with aplomb in their delivery, like Sharon Mesmer, Dave Chapelle, and Anne Sexton; obsessing over singers, rappers, Penn Sound. I started a reading series in Brooklyn for my friends and I to cut our teeth, despite my, um, inglorious stage fright. Also my father, tribal chairman of the reservation I'm from, practiced his speeches for hours in our living room until he got the emphasis and cadence and fervor juuuuust right. I suspect some of that seeped into me. It seemed only fitting to include an audio component with the collection.
The tracks that follow are by people in whose voices--the flow, wail, something guttural or nimble or smooth--I found inspiration, reflect themes in Absent Mindr, and/or make a nifty playlist for the poems.
1."Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear
Ed Droste's voice is just plain pretty. It's the fluttering sail of the flagship of some Royal Navy. I named one of my poems "Two Weeks," and it partially takes place at a Grizzly Bear show at East River Park in 2009. Whereas the plinky song seems to be about having to cyclically remind a lover of your devotion, the poem ends with the exasperation of being caught up in cyclical, intense, but ultimately short-lived love affairs.
2. "Monster" by Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver
Nicki's verse in "Monster" pretty much changed the way I think about serving language. She stalks, traps, attacks, and murderalizes the English language. I must have looped her verse 50 times on end when I first heard it. I think there are some other people on the track? But I don’t remember them. In "I'm All Over the Motherfucking Planet, Looking Good While I'm At It," I wrote, "so what/if phrases some to mind in the voice/of Nicki Minaj..." because they do, regularly, now, forever.
3. “Handsome and Gretel” by Babes in Toyland
Babes in Toyland taught me how to shout-growl, like the end of the poem “Sometimes”: “the whole block knows when I stub/ my toe. It sounds like this: “UUUUGGGGHHHH.” Naked text denies some of the dynamics, which is a reason why I feel the audio component is vital for my writing. In high school I would sit my the closet, put towels under the door so no one could hear me, and try to wail “HAAAANDSOOOOME” like Kat Bjelland. Try it, it’s kind of like burping!
4. "Heavy Metal Heart" by Sky Ferreira
The steady crescendo in the second chorus/thing, where Sky goes from whispering "talkin to myself in the dark," all the way to roaring "I’M NOT HER ANYMORE" is diva: exciting, controlled, out of control. The feeling is palpable after Sky’s voice, well, soars--a reawakening experienced in tandem with her shifting registers. In poetry speak it’s called “the turn.” Plus I like that the title could read "Heavy-Metal Heart" or "Heavy, Metal Heart." Similarly I wanted Absent Mindr to not only invoke absent mindedness, but also minding absences.
5. "Tears Dry (Original Version)" by Amy Winehouse
Amy's voice absolutely destroys me, from her Dinah Washington vibrato to the gravity of her phrasing. I like this "Tears Dry" more than the final version because it's so much sadder, more resigned, and you get a much clearer delivery of perhaps the underpinning lyric of Winehouse's oeuvre: "I don't understand, why do I stress a man when there's so many bigger things than him at hand?" It rang in my head pretty much the entire time I wrote these poems. Also there’s a poem in the ch-app called “The Day Amy Died,” just FYI.
6. "Buzzcut Season" by Lorde
“Buzzcut” has a similar plinkyness to “Two Weeks” but is a lot darker. While not particularly dramatic/flashy, Ella's got one of those mysterious, Fiona Apple, whiskey-voices. On someone so young it risks precociousness, but the lyrics have an elliptical quality that I really like. I think this song is about escapism and the Internet-- "where nothing's wrong but nothing's true/I live in a hologram with you"-- which is a thematic thread in Absent Mindr.
7. “That’s the Way Love Goes” by Janet Jackson
Ms. Jackson gets a lot of play in the ch-app, in “Crush”: “an M-I-S...S you much crush,” and “I’m All Over…”: “when going down d-down down/down d-down down.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t include some Janet in this. I like the ambiguity of “goes” as a word, how it could be read as love unfolding, or love leaving. Also this is one of the sexiest of all songs in the galaxy, and starts with Janet in her Poetic Justice days trying to lay down some quiet verse. So good.
8. "Numb" by Cassie
Nicki kills her words, but Cassie lulls them--her voice is velveteen on “Numb.” I think it’s an excellent example of form following function, wherein the mood invoked by the lyrics and music contributes to the overall meaning and experience. The whole song is like being on Vicodin. Rick Ross tries his best to smash the vibe, but Cassie guides it back into the sublime. She’s so smooth; lines like "In-vig-o-rating and packed ya like ice/beat puls-a-ting your heart skips twice/on the bass drum" is pure metric butter. That flow gets stuck in my head and I find it as inspiring as anything I read.
9. "H.A.T.E.U (So So Def remix)" by Mariah Carey ft. OJ Da Juiceman, Big Boi & Gucci Mane
This track is airy soft, a perfect vehicle for Mariah's whisper-voice nowadays, and the invocation of the mid '90s So So Def gem "My Boo" is a sly way of delivering the message: being in a compulsive cycle of adoration with someone you know isn't right, but you stick with because you don't want to be alone. "I can't wait to hate you," Mimi croons. "But right now I need you." That placeholder method of loving informed a lot of the poems, and the way she dips in and out of her falsetto is sculptural--the voice is putty in her hands.
10. “Cry” by Gayngs
I love the dissonance of Gayngs. You don’t know how many voices there are, or where the sounds are even coming from. It’s like all these ghosts got together to braid a sentiment. It ends up ethereal and clear, a kind of choral, monkish, ouija vibe. The dissonance is further articulated in the tension between the lamentation of the lyrics and vocal melody, with the dawning/aubade feel of the instrumentation. It’s like tripping on mushrooms, stumbling out of a dark party, and into 8AM Sunday sunlight. It’s a great way to end a playlist and I hope some of that trickled into Absent Mindr :-)
Thomas Pico and Absent Mindr links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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